Title: Strange Contagion
Author: Lee Daniel Kravetz
Genre/Audience: Nonfiction, adult
Publication: Harper, 2017
Source: For review, TLC Book Tours
In 2009, five students committed suicide on the train tracks in the affluent city of Palo Alto, California, within six months of each other. Kravetz, a science journalist and new transplant to the area, was baffled and saddened by the tragic events, and left wondering along with everyone else why it had happened. He began to research the idea of the “strange contagion,” or a “social virus.” He looked at how thoughts, ideas, and feelings spread easily between people, and how this idea may have led to the circumstances in his new home city.
What a tragic event to read about! It was so heartbreaking to hear about the deaths of all of these bright young teenagers, and like the author, I was itching to know the “why.” His research into strange contagions and the way people mirror and mimic others really helped shed some light onto how things like this can happen. One fascinating section of the book even discussed how bulimia came about. According to his research, after a psychologist discovered binging and purging in several of his patients and wrote about it, it spread like wildfire. Bulimia was a new disorder and when it hit the media, suddenly millions of people had this rare, new thing that had never even been named or discovered before then. Seems that awareness helps to really spread events, occurrences, etc. which obviously makes a lot of sense when you think about it.
A lot of research went into this book, and it shows. Kravetz clearly knows his stuff and I enjoyed gaining this insight. I will say that at times, I felt like I was reading a textbook more than anything else though. Seeing that he is a science writer and I always struggled with science, a lot of what he discussed seemed a bit dry and went right over my head. For that reason, I will say that this book is not for everyone. I’d recommend it mostly to those people who understand and enjoy science.
I definitely enjoyed the psychological aspects of this book as I have always loved psychology, but some of the science bits dragged on for me. An interesting book for sure, even if it’s not quite designed for science newbies like myself. Give it a try if you enjoy learning about human behavior and influence.